One of the issues recognised in the Neuberger Report was that school students in the maintained sector had “never encountered the Bar in any social or educational context whatever, let alone considered it as a possible career option”. They may have completed GSCEs and chosen A-levels without having considered a legal career let alone a career at the Bar at all. Another issue is that the Bar is a graduate only entry profession. This means it depends on the success of universities’ own programmes to admit a representative cross-section of the community, particularly in law or other faculties likely to lead to a legal career through the Graduate Diploma in Law (“GDL”).
An achievable career path
The question that exercised the Inner Temple was how best it could take action at school level to make the Bar more accessible as an achievable career path. One answer has proved to be in getting school students involved in a structured programme of activities within the Inner Temple, including the opportunity for them to take part in role play as barristers and other participants in court proceedings. The intention was to look at ways in which the Inner Temple could develop a long-term project which might be used as a model on a wider scale to promote regular contact with schools, with the objective of inspiring able students to consider the Bar as a career. The Bar Council through its Speakers for Schools programme and work with the Social Mobility Foundation and Sutton Trust already has some programmes focussed at school level.
Working with the NET
Part of the challenge was to find a partner with specialist knowledge of schools with whom to work. The Inner Temple linked up with the National Education Trust (“NET”), which is an independent foundation set up to improve the quality of education nationwide and to work at closing the achievement gap. A strategic approach was devised beginning with an information gathering exercise in June 2008 at the Inner Temple, “Lawyers were Children Once,” attended by some 60 sixth form teachers and careers advisers from maintained schools in the London area. The main event was splitting them into groups to discuss ways in which the Inner Temple could bridge the knowledge gap about the Bar as a career. The main messages were the importance of developing and maintaining contact with the profession and providing accurate information early enough to help students get the best start.
Out of the discussions came two projects in conjunction with NET. First, an event targeted at maintained schools in the London area, “So you want to be a Barrister?”, and, second, a project aimed at three different types of maintained schools, again in the London area. The schools were selected by NET. Both projects are part of a long-term commitment by the Inner Temple to raise awareness of the Bar as an achievable career path for able students.
Targeting maintained schools
The experience has been universally positive from both teachers and students alike. The first event in November 2008 at the Inner Temple involved 70 year 12 and 13 students from 22 maintained schools in the London area taking part in an afternoon of activities. The students heard from young barristers about training for the Bar; the need to obtain good A-level grades in mainstream subjects, the importance of obtaining a 2:1 or first class degree, the availability of scholarships and bursaries and, of course, the competition for pupillages. Some of the myths surrounding study for the Bar—such as the profession was not for people like them—were dispelled. They were also given advice on the type of extracurricular activities they should undertake whilst at school and university to help them prepare for a career as a barrister. The students heard from a current BVC student from a black and minority ethnic (“BME”) background about his personal route from a sixth from college to securing a scholarship and pupillage.
The students were then given a snapshot of a day in the life of barristers from young practitioners, self-employed and employed, in different areas of practice to illustrate how their daily routines can differ greatly. Many of them had only seen the Bar in the context of criminal cases. It was then time for the students, with the help of about 20 practitioners who had volunteered to help, to sit down with them and discuss questions they had about the Bar.
The final session of the day was an opportunity for the students to “have a go” at some advocacy, wearing a wig and gown if they wanted to. In groups, they were given some basic information on a drink-driving case and guidance on conducting a plea in mitigation. They were helped to pin-point the key issues, as well as the sentencing options, by the practitioners present. A number of students then took the plunge and, gowned and bewigged, made their pleas to the judge.
The feedback was enthusiastic with one student saying, “overall, the highlight of the day was the Magistrates’ Court role play exercise at the end because not only was it fun to get up and move about but it gave me a real, practical experience of the work of a barrister, something which I have never done before. The day, instead of just skimming the surface, was a real insight into the work of a barrister and has motivated me.”
Becoming a barrister: your call?
By the end of 2008 NET had selected three maintained schools in the London area, Slough Grammar School, Greenford High School and Thomas Tallis School, Greenwich for the second project, “Becoming a Barrister … Your Call?” The Inner Temple arranged a three-stage programme of events and activities with the three schools.
At the first stage in January 2009 30 year 12 students attended to learn more about becoming a barrister. They were split into small groups to discuss the role of the barrister with practitioners. The students were then given a snapshot of a day in the life of barristers in different areas of law to illustrate how their daily routines can differ. Once again the students then split into groups and donned wigs and gowns to “have a go” at a simple plea in mitigation – an opportunity which again proved extremely popular.
Again the feedback was positive with one of the students saying that, “they didn’t assume that we already knew everything and gave us a concise bit of background info. There were also really useful talks from current lawyers or BVC students, which I found the most interesting and helpful as it helped me gain a good perspective of the career as a whole.”
The second stage in April involved the Inner Temple hosting 38 year 12 students who, throughout the morning, participated in a presentational skills session on voice projection and movement put on by RADA; a research session in the Library using law reports, legal texts and the internet; a tour of chambers in Francis Taylor Building with the opportunity to speak to pupils and clerks, and a visit to the Royal Courts of Justice. At various stages throughout the day they were joined by BVC students and practitioners.
The final stage will involve a debating competition between the three schools at the end of September to be held at the Inner Temple.
A worthwhile contribution
Many of the students that I have talked to from the three schools involved in the first two stages of the project are enthusiastic and have the academic ability to achieve a career at the Bar. Albeit that the projects are at an early stage they are disseminating information about the Bar more widely, and if they can assist in changing perceptions for those involved and more generally, then, they are a worthwhile contribution to the implementation of the Neuberger Report. As one student wrote, “this was a fantastic opportunity which I am delighted to be a part of”. The significance of his response was that he felt part of the project.
David Pittaway QC is Chairman of the Inner Temple’s Education & Training Committee and Chairman of the Bar Council’s Training for the Bar Committee